Over the course of New Year’s Eve on Dec. 31, 1958 and January 1, 1959, the reigning Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, abdicated his position as a result of the growing revolution led by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, who replaced the government with a revolutionary socialist state.

In the 2001 essay The Day Havana Fell, published in his book Havana: the Revolutionary Moment, Burt Glinn describes the combination of chutzpah and journalistic prescience that led him to leave a New York party and hop on a plane to Havana, arriving just after dawn on New Year’s Day, 1959. He went in search of a revolution, and what he found was one of the most revealing accounts of Fidel Castro and Cuba ever recorded. Glinn was able to grasp that, far more than bearing witness to some interesting news event, he had found himself in the very midst of history-in-the-making, at a moment of serious radical change. His images of Castro, thronged by his countrymen and women, as he stopped to encourage them along the road to Havana, of troops embracing, and of fierce men and women alike taking up arms in the streets, are full of the fervor, hope, and idealism that characterized very defining moment in Cuban history.

I think that what you've got to do is discover the essential truth of the situation, and have a point of view about it.

Burt Glinn
© Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Burt Glinn served in the United States Army between 1943 and 1946, before studying literature at Harvard University, where he edited and photographed for the Harvard Crimson college newspaper. From 1949 to 1950, Glinn worked for LIFE magazine before becoming a freelancer.

He became an associate member of Magnum in 1951, along with Eve Arnold and Dennis Stock – the first Americans to join the young photo agency – and a full member in 1954. Glinn made his mark with spectacular color series on the South Seas, Japan, Russia, Mexico and California. His reportages have appeared in Esquire, Geo, Travel and Leisure, Fortune, Life and Paris-Match. He has covered such monumental news events as the Sinai War, the US Marine invasion of Lebanon, and Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba.

© Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos

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